‘Phantom Goal’ still haunts old-time Kingston hockey fans

The Kingston Canadians/Raiders/Frontenacs celebrate 50 years of major junior hockey in the Limestone City

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If video replay had existed in 1975, a controversial goal scored — or not scored — at the Memorial Center during Game 8 of a heated Ontario Hockey Association Major Junior A Hockey League quarter-final series between the second-year Kingston Canadians and the powerhouse Toronto Marlboros would probably be long forgotten.

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But at the time, video replay was still decades away and the goal is still occasionally discussed by local old-time Kingston hockey fans.

Did Toronto forward Mark Napier’s shot toward the goal in the first period on Monday, April 7, enter the net or not?

It depends on who you ask. Most local people would say no, but an unnamed goal judge said yes, and his opinion was obviously the deciding factor.

The goal, scored at 17:07 of the first period, has been called the “Phantom Goal” ever since.

It gave the Marlies a 2-1 lead over the Canadians in a game that Toronto eventually won 9-7 to claim the eight-point quarter-final, 9-7. In 1975, junior playoff series were eight-point affairs, rather than best-of-sevens. There was no overtime used to break ties unless the teams were tied 7-7 in points after Game 7 and were also tied at the end of regulation in Game 8.

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The Canadians made the playoffs in just their second season in the league. The last-place Kitchener Rangers beat the London Knights on the final night of the season, allowing Kingston to go back into the last playoff spot by a single point.

The Toronto Marlboros were one of the top junior teams in the country, losing just 13 of 70 games and finishing 18 points ahead of the second-place Peterborough Petes and 45 points ahead of Kingston.

Toronto’s ninth goal that night, scored by future Toronto Maple Leafs star John Anderson, came into an empty net.

“We lost by one goal on a goal that never went in,” retired lawyer Peter Radley, 84, a former part-owner of the Canadians, said in an interview earlier this month.

“I sat behind the penalty box and the goal was scored in the Zamboni end, and from what I saw from the reaction of the puck, it came out too quickly to have gone into the net. It had to have hit something and not gone in.

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“When a goal bounces out from the back of a net, it comes straight out. This one came out on the side (toward the side boards).”

Radley spoke with Napier years later at a celebrity hockey event in Kingston and said Napier told him the puck never went into the net.

“We were always trained by Frank Bonello if it was a controversial goal to raise your stick like it was in,” Radley said Napier told him.

The Whig-Standard was unable to contact Napier, now 65 and the retired executive director of the National Hockey League Alumni Association.

Napier went on to play three years in the World Hockey Association, followed by 12 years in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, scoring 235 career goals in 767 NHL games.

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Napier, 18 at the time, scored 12 goals and added a dozen assists in the 1975 first-round series in which the two teams combined for 87 goals.

At the much-anticipated game, every seat was taken, all standing room spots were full and fans were sitting on the stairs between the sections and on the rafters, Radley said.

“The fire marshal’s code said maybe 3,020 people (allowed in the building). There had to be 5,000 people in the rink,” he said.

According to the Whig-Standard the next day, the official attendance was 4,355.

In the Whig-Standard of Tuesday, April 8, 1975, the late Art Wright, the Whig’s assistant sports editor at the time, did not mention the phantom goal until the story’s 25th paragraph.

“The Canadians lost the game — and the series in the opening period on a disputed goal by Napier which the Canadians, right down to the final player, insisted wasn’t in,” Wright wrote.

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“The score was tied 1-1 when Napier fled down the right side on one of his patented breaks and fired a backhand along the ice which appeared to hit the post and bounce straight out.”

The red light went on, but the play went on for a few more seconds before referee Bob Nadin whistled the play dead and awarded the goal to the Marlies after consulting with the goal judge, according to Wright’s report on the game.

“Even Napier knew the puck never went to it,” Canadians goaltender Jim Weaver said after the game. “He never raised his stick … he kept going after the puck.”

After that goal, Wright reported that the Canadians lost their composure and Bruce Boudreau, the current coach of the Vancouver Canucks, scored 38 seconds later. The Marlies were up 5-1 early in the second period before Kingston started its comeback

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“I was pretty obvious it hurt us,” Canadians forward Alex Forsyth, who became a longtime Kingston Police officer after his professional hockey career ended, told Wright after the game. “Everybody was mad out there and started running at them. It took us to the next period to settle down.”

Ron Brown, the Whig-Standard’s sports editor in 1975, attended the game and also said the puck did not go in.

“It wasn’t a hard shot. It struck the goalpost dead center and clanged away at a right angle to the other faceoff circle,” Brown wrote in his column the next day.

He wrote that Nadin first waved off the goal, then consulted with the goal judge, changed his mind and signaled a good goal.

Both Brown and Wright were able to interview Nadine post-game in the officials room, with a Kingston Police officer accompanying them.

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“Now lookit,” Nadin said while shaking a finger, “I didn’t wave no goal. I called the play dead, then went and asked the goal judge if the puck went in the net and he said yes and that was it.”

Brown wrote that he quizzed Nadine further on his arm movement, which usually waves off a goal.

“That’s it, you asked a question, I answered it, now get out of here.”

Marlies general manager Frank Bonello told Brown the puck didn’t go in.

“If I was in (Kingston coach and general manager Walter ‘Punch’ Scherer’s) shoes, I’d be fuming, too, (that) it wasn’t in.”

Marlies coach George Armstrong was more diplomatic after the game.

“I didn’t see it,” he told Whig-Standard sports reporter Gary Lupton, one of four newspaper employees assigned to the game, including photographer Bill Baird.

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“Unless all of the geometry we took in school has suddenly changed, there’s no way the puck could have bounced away from the goal in the manner it did,” Brown wrote. “Had it hit the inside of the net, where the bar and the base of the goal curves, it would have come back out the same way. This one didn’t.”

A strong second half of the game pulled the Canadians to within one goal, 8-7, but they couldn’t score the tying marker.

“You can’t blame the whole game on that goal,” Canadians defenseman Mike O’Connell said after the match. “But something like that has to have an effect on a team. That was one of the breaks everybody said before the game it would take to win it.”

The Marlboros won the next two rounds of playoffs to take the league crown and then won the 1975 Memorial Cup championship with a 7-3 win in the final over the New Westminster Bruins.

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Decades later, a former Kingston player maintained the puck did not go into the net.

“It hit the post,” former Canadians star Tony McKegney told the Whig-Standard’s Doug Graham in 2008 when the K-Rock Center opened.

“My vantage point for the play was Section 17, Row F, Seat 10, almost directly beside the goal post,” Brown wrote. And today, tomorrow and 10 years from now I’ll still say that the puck never entered the Kingston net.”

The Whig-Standard contacted Brown, 81, who left the newspaper in 1995, about the phantom goal and his opinion hasn’t changed all these years later.

“It didn’t go in,” Brown said matter-of-factly in a recent interview.

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It’s a Celebration

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What: The Kingston Frontenacs will be honoring their past on Friday night as the franchise celebrates its 50th season in 2022-23. Kingston will take on the Sudbury Wolves at 7 pm at the Leon’s Centre.

Why: The Kingston Canadians were created in time for the 1973-74 season. In the 1988-89 season, the team was renamed the Raiders and then the Frontenacs the next season. Friday night will honor the Canadians and Raiders era, and current players will wear a special jersey to mark the occasion.

Who: The team will welcome back alumni from the Canadians and Raiders. The night will feature a special ceremonial puck drop that includes more than 20 alumni members. Alumni members Brian Crombeen, Dave Hynek, Mark Major and Mike Crombeen will be signing autographs following the game. The first 150 fans will receive a limited-edition collectible card that can be signed.

More in the series

Ten community-minded citizens started the Kingston Canadians franchise

Kingston Canadians/Raiders/Frontenacs top 10 moments

‘Phantom Goal’ still haunts old-time Kingston hockey fans

Kingston’s major junior hockey franchise: The first 16 seasons

Items of interest from the Kingston Canadians/Raiders era

Kingston franchise statistical leaders

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